TalkTalk

“Good conversation creates good food”

- Miyajibuta Inc. CEO, Miyaji Yusuke

Ajinomoto Co., Inc. newly established the Consumer Data Analysis & Business Creation Dept. in the spring of 2018. Its mission is to make the future of food enjoyable. In this series of FUTURE FOOD TALK, we shall look together at the different paths we should be taking by talking to people in different fields about the future of food.

With his new 3K farming mantra of “Kakkoii (cool), Kando ga aru (inspiring), Kasegeru (make money)”, Yusuke Miyaji produces high quality Miyaji pork in small quantities for discerning consumers. He talks about how he has created a unique brand which doesn’t seek to expand the business and the possibilities that technology can bring to broaden our choices.

Great taste is the starting point for good conversation

Mr. Miyaji: For me, when I think about the richness that food offers, it’s the barbecue that is important for showing us how food should be. Ever since we first opened Miyaji Buta we’ve been holding barbecue events to give customers an idea of just how good our Miyaji pork tastes. It’s not brand foods that are needed when you sit down to eat. It’s just good tasting food and good conversation, the things you always get when having a barbecue.

I am absolutely confident the barbecue has everything needed to give great taste everyone loves, and richness to the table, it’s a place of communication that expresses those ideas.

And at the same time, it’s a place which gives customers great conversation with others in the community. Showing off a bit by lighting up the barbecue, grilling the meat together and sharing it out. Some people who’ve come to our barbecues have met the love of their lives and got married, for others it has led to work.

When people can see who’s produced the food it can be a good conversation starter, like “do you know this pork?”, “it’s good right?” or “it’s made by Miyaji in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture”.

People can tell others only what they themselves have experienced. It’s because of the barbecue that you can tell others that you’ve had Miyaji pork, or even how good it was. Barbecues are the best thing for getting a conversation going.

The idea of Miyaji pork with a new mantra

I really want to change the way of farming through my own work. Traditionally speaking, farming has always been thought of quite negatively in terms of the 3 K’s, that of “kitsui” (hard work), “kitanai” (dirty) and “kakko-warui” (not particularly cool). But I want to change this to the 3 K’s of “kakko-ii” (cool), “kando ga aru” (inspiring) and “kasegeru” (make money).

For me, the definition of "cool" in farming is that farmers produce everything from production right through to the food customers eat. It goes without saying that the most important thing is the production site, followed by distribution, marketing through to business applications in the future. If you can see everything as a primary industry, then that’s really cool.

For us, the inspiring aspect is to hear directly from our customers. Even now I still remember when I was in my second year at university, I was having a barbecue with a friend eating some of our home bred pork and he said how he’d never eaten pork as good as this ever before. People can be so moved or inspired by great tasting food. It was then that I first realized how incredible my father’s work was.

At the same time my mind went blank when I was asked where he could buy the pork from. I didn’t know, even my father didn’t know where the pork he made was being sold. When you get feedback like this right from the heart of the consumer it’s enough to make you think how inspiring farming really is.

And if we can meet the money making standards that everyone has, nothing would be as good as that.

Now this new mantra has started to become well known I think these steps I’ve taken in farming over the past 10 years has really been a success. But for an ideal world I’ve only really achieved 20% of what I’d like. I don’t think it’ll ever be 100%.

It might get to 100% when the whole farming world incorporates this new mantra but the basis of cool, inspiring, and make money will change depending on the times and the people. Each looking for their own kind of 3 K industry. That's more important than anything else.

Can technology really contribute to a rich food culture?

Mr. Okamoto: We are a company which has created an all-round great taste which is being bought both far and wide.

Mr. Miyaji: That’s the exact opposite of us.

Mr. Okamoto: Yes, that’s right. But the mission of the newly established Consumer Data Analysis & Business Creation Dept. is to do a job that isn’t just for the greatest common denominator, it’s more about connecting with our customers and seeing their faces.

Mr. Miyaji: That must be a really hard thing to do.

Mr. Okamoto: Yeah, I think so. We believe that developing services which use technology to make food experiences more enjoyable is also a part of what we do.

Mr. Miyaji: Technology. Looking at it from my point of view, I’m a bit skeptical...

Mr: Sato: How do you mean?

Mr. Miyaji: Well for instance, now our crops are being charted using photos so we can know their sweetness, bitterness, and umami, or by using drones we can check a whole cabbage field to find out where the pests are and spray pesticides, this kind of technology is now quite advanced, right. I think this is really good.

But the role of the farmer is to improve productivity, more than marketing or sales. It would be great if that could be improved by using technology, but for a farmer like me who has only 700 - 800 pigs at most, these kind of small scale brands whose production methods are the exact opposite to production efficiency are less likely to benefit from that kind of technology compared with a business that has say 10,000 pigs.

We believe being highly regarded by a few people, rather than aiming to be a large scale enterprise is also one way of being a brand name. What enriches our food is not in the food itself but the conversations we have. Even if we can achieve production efficiencies and digitization, it’s still unknown whether technology actually does contribute to these areas.

Technology’s potential lies in expanding the room for choice

Mr. Sato: I feel like Miyaji Buta’s supply, or the average consumer’s food habits, or the convenience of food, these things are not guaranteed. Technology might be an effective tool to combat these needs. A society where a brand like Miyaji Buta becomes people’s choice by way of convenience, is that your kind of vision for the future?

Mr. Miyaji: Because you know about Miyaji Buta in the first place, when it becomes more convenient for you, then you buy it. In that order, I guess. If purchases were brought about in this way it would be great.

Mr. Sato: As technology evolves to the next level and better ways to recommend products become more widespread, what do you think about the possibilities for making new contact between you and the consumer that this technology will bring about?

Mr. Miyaji: Yes, for sure, people will buy products in this way. But because we’ve always had such a strong connection with our own customers we don’t come into contact with repeating customers in a one-off way. That’s how I see it, in a kind of philosophical way.

Mr. Sato: Yes, I guess you’re right. And beyond that, I guess it’s about exploring the possibilities of technology getting closer to things in line with your sense of values, finding things which have yet to be found.

Mr. Miyaji: It’s about how much people can trust technology, but it will also change as the relationship between humans and technology changes. In terms of food, I think it’s people who are the ones doing the recommending now. If there’s a real, close relationship between people and the technology, then yes, there may be potential. I’d like to look at this more in the future.

Yusuke Miyaji
Miyajibuta Inc. CEO and Representative Director of Noka Kosegare Network, an NPO, Miyaji is also a member of the Family Business Innovation Lab’s action committee. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1978, he graduated from Keio University with a degree in policy management. He established Miyaji Buta Co., Ltd., a stock company, in September 2006 and became its President and CEO. With his younger brother taking responsibility for pork production, while Miyaji himself taking care of the concept and strategy side of the business, the company became one of leading pork brands in Kanagawa Prefecture in merely two years. Miyaji Buta (Miyaji Pork) received a Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries award in 2008. The following year Miyaji founded Noka Kosegare Network, an NPO, for the purpose of helping farmers’ sons working in urban areas return to their family businesses. In 2010, he was given a Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications award for individuals. For full two years from 2015, he led a study group to research into issues surrounding the succession of family farming business. In 2017, Miyaji became a member of the action committee at the Family Business Innovation Lab that addresses real and would-be successors of all types of family businesses. In August 2017, he founded Farmers Barbecue, a company to plan and operate a chain of “cook your own” BBQ restaurants “closest to meat and vegetable producers.” Diamond Harvard Business Review chose Miyaji one of “Twenty U-40 Business Administrators Who Will Build Future.” He is the author of Selling Pork While Blown by Shonan Wind.
Tatsuya Okamoto
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. Corporate Executive Officer
Ken Sato
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. General Manager, New Business Creation Group
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